Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Parables of the Barren Fig Tree and The Ten Bridesmaids

The Parables of the Barren Fig Tree and The Ten Bridesmaids (or Ten Virgins) are two eschatological parables that our class treated together.

The Barren Fig Tree (from Luke 13) is brief: The owner of the fig tree hasn’t found any fruit on it for three years so demands that it be cut down. The caretaker replies: “Leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”

The Ten Bridesmaids (from Matthew 25) are waiting for the bridegroom. The five wise bridesmaids brought extra oil for their lamps. The five foolish bridesmaids did not bring oil, left to buy more, and were gone when the bridegroom arrived. “‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’” Jesus concluded: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

The parables address two different failures of discipleship. The Barren Fig Tree is about the failure to bear fruit. As Klyne Snodgrass says, “We do not know when we will be called to account for our lives. We need to recover some sense that our actions really are significant and remember that the gospel includes judgment, mercy, and a call for repentance and productive living” (Stories with Intent, p. 265).

The Ten Bridesmaids is about the failure to be prepared. As Craig Blomburg puts it, “Like the foolish bridesmaids, those who do not prepare adequately may discover a point beyond which there is no return—when the end comes it will be too late to undo the damage of neglect.” (Interpreting the Parables, p. 241)

Although Jesus used both parables to give warning to his contemporaries of imminent judgement, there are clear applications for his Second Coming.

Naomi’s drawing is one of my favorites. Rather than a wedding, the ten women have been waiting for a bus to “Future Boulevard.” The five wise women are climbing onto the bus. The five unwise women are scattered about the neighborhood: two window shopping, one buying coffee, and two at the door of a move theater. (The wedding theme of the four movies playing reminds us of the original setting.) The barren fig tree stands, ignored, on the street corner.

More Barren Fig Tree Art

I didn’t find much Barren Fig Tree art: Two by usual suspects Jan Luyken (The Parable of the Fig Tree) and James Jacques Joseph Tissot (The Barren Fig Tree) and another by Steve Hammond (The Barren Fig Tree).

More Ten Bridesmaids Art

Art illustrating the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids is more common, most of it highlighting the differences between the two sets of women.

The only artist who gives every bridesmaid her own story is the Mormon painter Gayla Prince. According to her web site, “prints of her painting ‘The Ten Virgins’ have sold over one million copies. She has been invited to give over 500 presentations of that paintings symbolism to groups around the United States. She then developed a slide and script presentation that has been given by thousands of presenters to millions of people worldwide.” A version of her presentation is here; a larger version of the painting is here.
Music

For this class we sang “Where Is the Kingdom” (And Jesus Said #1), which includes a reference to the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids (“It’s like those young women with oil in their lamps”); “Heav’n Is Like Ten Bridesmaids Waiting” (AJS #54); and “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” (Singing the New Testament  #47). And Jesus Said also includes another Bridesmaid song “Waiting for the Bridegroom” (AJS #53) and two Barren Fig Tree songs, “Jesus and the Fig Tree” (AJS #23) and “A Fruitless Fig Tree” (AJS #24).

This is the seventh post in a series about the Parables of Jesus Sunday school class I co-taught at Trinity CRC in Ames. In each post, I make a few observations about the parable, share Naomi Friend’s original artwork she drew during our class, post links to other art about the parable, and share our favorite songs about the parable. Previous posts covered the Parable of the SowerThe Parables of the Mustard Seed & the LeavenThe Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great PriceThe Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, The Parable of the Lost Sons, and The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds.

The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds

The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds is one of my personal favorites as it seems to capture the confusing nature of the the present age: good and evil mixed together, often indistinguishably.

A farmer sows good seed, but his enemy comes at night and sows weeds. (The weed is thought to be darnel, which looks like wheat but if ground with it will spoil the flour. The King James translates the word as “tares.”) The farmer tells his servants not to pull up the weeds because in doing so “‘you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

The parable is one of the seven kingdom parables in Matthew 13, one of only two with a title given in the Biblical text (Jesus’ disciples call it “the parable of the weeds in the field”) and one of only three that Jesus explains.

According to Jesus, two types of seed are the people of the kingdom (sown by the Son of Man) and the people of the evil one (sown by the devil). At the end of the age, the angels will “weed out of [God’s] kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.

In his discussion of the parable in Stories with Intent, Klyne Snodgrass says that “God is not the only one at work, and not all actions in this world can be attributed to God.… Evil happens that can only be identified as the work of an enemy” (p. 215). This is such an important corrective to the “everything happens for a reason” theology circulating in the church today.

Naomi’s drawing (as always, drawn during the class with occasional input from other members) shows the enemy (dressed in black) at the left sowing the bad seed. At the right, another figure is harvesting the wheat with a sickle while stacks of weeds burn behind him. Four insets show how the two different plants look identical when they are young but very different when fully grown. At the center, the weed wraps itself around the wheat.

More Art

Almost all of the Wheat and Weeds artwork I found focuses on the enemy sowing weeds. Exceptions include a 1992 triptych by Dinah Roe Kendall (Wheat and Weeds), and Scott Freeman’s The Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat, which appears to depict Jesus sowing wheat.

A few pieces focus on the harvest/judgment, including William Blake’s The Good Farmer, Probably the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, James B. Janknegt’s Grain and Weeds (2002), Scott Freeman’s The Parable of the Weeds, and Bassano-Schule’s The Parable of the Tares (17th Century).

The weed-sowing artwork includes:

Music

In addition to “Where Is the Kingdom” (AJS #1) we sang two other songs from And Jesus Said: “Wheat and Weeds” (AJS #12 & 13) and “Mixed Like Weeds in Wheatfields” (AJS #14).  Neither recounts the story in the parable. The former (with lyrics by Richard Leach and set to two different tunes) is four lines long:

Wheat and weeds: growing time; wheat alone: harvest come.
Truth and lies, hope and rage, love and fear: wheat and weeds.
Lies pulled up, rage consumed, fear cast out: harvest time.
Truth along, hope fulfilled, love enthroned: kingdom come.

Mixed Like Weeds in Wheatfields” (with lyrics by Carl Daw) sets Jesus ministry into the context of “worldly power, undaunted” that opposes it. “Though such evils flourish and grounds for hope decrease, deep and well our planted God’s seeds of love and peace.”

This is the sixth post in a series about the Parables of Jesus Sunday school class I co-taught at Trinity CRC in Ames. In each post, I make a few observations about the parable, share Naomi Friend’s original artwork she drew during our class, post links to other art about the parable, and share our favorite songs about the parable. Previous posts covered the Parable of the SowerThe Parables of the Mustard Seed & the LeavenThe Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great PriceThe Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, and The Parable of the Lost Sons.